This story originally appeared in the Holiday issue of ESPNHS magazine’s Texas edition.
The Lone Star State has turned out plenty of basketball talent over the years, from a surefire Hall of Famer like Shaquille O’Neal to a modern superstar like Deron Williams. Texas has produced a few juggernaut teams as well, including Chris Bosh’s 40-0 Lincoln team from 2001-02 and Yates’ record-setting 34-0 squad in 2009-10 — both teams that finished as state and national champions.
But no matter how good the individuals or the teams, Texas has always been thought of as a football state. That’s never going to change. Nor should it. Texas is the home of high school football. But this winter, it’s also the home of high school basketball.
The 2011-12 season has the potential to go down as the best in state history. There are individual superstars aplenty and teams built to dominate. There are established seniors and upstart underclassmen. And ultimately, there’s sure to be plenty of drama along the way.
We couldn’t cover it all in these four pages, but we did our best. So read on for a sampling of the players and teams to watch in what is sure to be an unforgettable season of high school basketball.
Cameron Ridley is making the game of basketball look awfully easy.
The 6-foot-10, 230-pound center from Bush has been playing basketball since only the eighth grade, but there’s very little he hasn’t accomplished.
Championship ring? Check. Ridley was a key contributor as a sophomore starter on Bush’s 2010 Class 5A state championship team. In the title game win over Lakeview Centennial, he tallied eight points, 10 boards and three blocks.
Individual accolades? Check. Ridley nabbed District 23-5A MVP honors last winter after a breakout junior season for the Broncos. He poured in 17.6 points per game and added 15.3 rebounds and 5.6 blocked shots per contest.
National recognition? Check. Ridley is ranked No. 8 in the ESPNU 100, second among centers and second among Texans. In August, he traveled to Venice Beach, Calif., to take part in the Boost Mobile Elite 24, a showcase for the top talent in the nation, regardless of class. Up-tempo games like that aren’t designed for big men to shine, but Ridley chipped in with six points nonetheless.
College destination? Check. Ridley has his bags packed for Austin. He committed to the Longhorns over schools like North Carolina, Kansas and Georgetown.
From never dribbling a basketball a few years ago to choosing between four of the most prestigious basketball schools in the country four years later? Now that’s impressive.
The last time Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski ventured through Texas on the recruiting trail, he brought a Houston-area shooting guard back with him to Durham, N.C.
A decade later, he’s done it again.
In 2001, it was Willowridge All-American Daniel Ewing. This time around, it’s Strake Jesuit’s Rasheed Sulaimon.
If the name Daniel Ewing isn’t ringing any bells, let’s run through a quick refresher. Ewing won state crowns with Willowridge in 2000 and 2001 playing alongside future Longhorn star T.J. Ford. He went on to start 79 games in four years for the Blue Devils, averaging 15.3 points per game as a senior in 2004-05.
Where Ewing was solid, Sulaimon has the chance to be spectacular. He’s been one of the fastest-rising prospects in the country in the past year and is all the way up to No. 12 in the ESPNU 100.
There was a time not long ago when his Houston Hoops teammates L.J. Rose (Westbury Christian) and J-Mychal Reese (Bryan) outshined Sulaimon on the AAU circuit. But starting last winter when he averaged 21.3 points per game for Strake Jesuit and continuing into this past summer’s AAU season, few have been able to match Sulaimon’s production and energy on the court.
That energy is what sets Sulaimon apart. On the offensive end, he plays on the edge, flying at the rim like he was shot out of a cannon while occasionally pulling up to show off his shooting touch. Defensively, he’s cat-quick and pounces at just the right moments.
Combine that all-around game with Sulaimon’s team-first mentality, and he’ll be a perfect fit at Duke. But he’ll also bring something extra with him when he heads east in the fall, something Duke fans haven’t seen in about a decade — a little Texas flair.
AARON AND ANDREW HARRISON
There are some mean duos in Texas this season. From Marcus’ backcourt of Marcus Smart and Phil Forte to Prestonwood Christian’s frontcourt of Julius Randle and Zach Peters, numerous title contenders have multiple weapons this winter.
But the best combo in the state is undoubtedly Fort Bend Travis’ twin guard attack of juniors Andrew and Aaron Harrison. Andrew, a 6-foot-5 point guard, is rated No. 4 in the ESPNU 60, while Aaron, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, checks in at No. 7.
That’s a pair of national top 10 players in the same backcourt. Making them even more dangerous is how well they complement each other.
Andrew is a pure point guard with the vision and unselfishness to thrive at the position. He’s also got the size, strength and ball-handling ability to blow by defenders and get into the paint. That’s where Aaron comes in. He has a knack for getting to open spots where his brother can find him, and he can pour the ball in from downtown.
Aaron had the hot hand this summer at the AAU 17U Super Showcase in Florida, scoring 18 points in the title game to lift the Houston Defenders over BABC at one of the summer’s most prestigious tournaments.
With that kind of connection, it’s no surprise Andrew and Aaron plan on playing together in college. In-state powers Texas and Baylor are in the mix, as are schools like Kentucky, Maryland and Villanova.
But for a pair of juniors, college is a long way off. The more immediate concern is finding a way to claim a state title this season. And with Travis ranked No. 15 in the POWERADE FAB 50 ESPNHS Team Rankings — No. 2 among Texas teams — the crown is certainly within reach.